How do police use dental records to identify dead people?


If they don’t know who you are they can’t go to YOUR dentist, right? Is there a National database that stores all of our our bitewings – I don’t remember consenting to that! And teeth look a lot alike on those X-rays – do you need special training to tell one set apart from another?

In: 1811

Pretty sure they just use them to prove who they already suspected it to be or possibly suspected it to be.

Teeth are harder and don’t decompose the way flesh does. Teeth are very unique and most people have up to 32 of them. So when a body can’t be identified using conventional means – fingerprints, tattoos, and other identifying marks – they turn to dental records. If the suspected victim had dental work done it would help authorities to match a cadaver to those records giving them a positive match.

Let’s say they find a burn victim in your apartment. No one can identify your remains, but since it’s your apartment, a reasonable hypothesis is that it’s you. To confirm or refute the hypothesis, they will look for identifying marks you are known to have (let’s say you had a titanium rod in your tibia, or two dental crowns and a damaged incisor). Since these are not affected by the fire, they look for them by checking your health records at your health provider (it’s likely that you will have a provider in the area or maybe your family knows the address).

They don’t necessarily know your dentist, but let’s suppose you are a policeman who finds the body of a missing person. You can’t confirm for sure who this man is, but you know roughly how old that person is, and you can figure the biological sex out too, so you now know that the person in question is, say, a male, around 25 years old, and based on the decomposition, you can figure out how long ago he died, roughly 10-12 days ago lets say. Now, you crossreference this with a database of people reported missing for people who fit the time of death as well as the profile of the missing person. This already narrows the list down a lot. Now you might enter some more data, like skin color, and you quickly get down to only a dozen people or so. From here, compare the dental records of their dentists with the teeth you found with the body, and you get yourself a winner.

They cannot use dental records to identify a person, they can only be used as evidence to confirm the identity of someone whose identity they think they know.

They find a body and say “Gee, that looks like it could be Joe Schmoe, the guy reported missing by his family last week, but I can’t be sure because the body’s in rough shape.” Then they go to the family and say “We think we might have found Joe, but we can’t be sure. Can you call his dentist and ask to send his last dental records?” Then the coroner compares the two and says – “Yep, same fillings, crown, tooth sticking out at a weird angle, that’s Joe.”

>If they don’t know who you are they can’t go to YOUR dentist, right?

Correct – this is typically only used when you have some likely candidates for who the person might be. For instance, in a plane crash you have a passenger list so you can retrieve the dental records from those people specifically.

>And teeth look a lot alike on those X-rays – do you need special training to tell one set apart from another?

Usually they don’t look at the general shapes of your teeth, but at signs of dental work such as fillings, crowns, etc. Not only is this more reliable to compare to, but also it doesn’t depend on there being any x-rays, as dentist record such information in non-picture form.

This is useful because, while lots of people have fillings and crowns, not many people have the exact same pattern of fillings and crowns across different teeth. And again, this is most often done to match remains to a list of likely candidates, so it doesn’t matter if there is someone in the world who has/had the same pattern of dental work as a victim – as long as none of the other candidates for identification are a match. Going back to the example of a plane crash, as long as no one else on the plane had fillings in exactly the same teeth, that can be used to identify a person’s remains. Or even if there were two passengers with matching dental records, you can then use further clues to figure out which of the two it is (e.g. height, male vs. female, any jewelry that survived, etc.).

Dental records are especially useful if the rest of the body has been damaged or destroyed, e.g. by a fire, as teeth are more likely to survive. The same goes for bones, so if you have e.g. a metal screw in your leg, they can use that too. It’s just that more people have had dental work done than have metal pins or screws in their bones.

It’s used for identification confirmation so they already have an idea of who the person was. You are correct that there is no public database that has your teeth for a medical examiner to just log on to.

They don’t let you identify someone; Your teeth aren’t on a national registry

But, they can be used to confirm an identification if they suspect someone.

So if you have a body, the teeth are worthless. Unless, you know that someone with a gold filling on the left side of his mouth went missing a few weeks ago.

From there, you can order his dental records and check if his teeth are roughly the right shape


Can’t explain much about dental records to ID deceased people, but bite mark analysis in assault/homicide cases isn’t a reliable science. Due to a general lack of standardized dental records to start with, along with fluctuations at the site of bite marks including swelling, dragging, depth, and death, police can’t reliably or accurately define who bit someone based on the mark alone.

Dentists might get emails from the state or law enforcement and generally say that they need assistance with identifying a patient based on dental records. May include whatever findings they have about the person in the email such as age, gender, etc. Can include the radiographs and if dentists know of the person, they can respond.

Teeth don’t break down when the body decomposes, like your other bones in your body. Teeth will have certain identifying features that can help tell people apart. As rudimentary as it may seem, it’s all about identifying restorations in the radiograph, including the size and shape of it. If a person has five restorations on the right side, each restoration can lead towards a positive identification of the person. Even if you have radiographs of the person from five years ago and they get some work done, you can still identify older fillings that they have. All this works towards getting that identification needed.

Bonus, if your dentures have some identification on it be it your name or your prison ID, it can help identify you if you had your dentures in when you die. So make sure to get your dentures with your name on them please, it’s helpful, and helpful so the other people in the home can’t steal your dentures and claim it’s theirs.

Source, am dentist

I’m pretty sure you can extract DNA from the pulp of the tooth. Does anyone know any more?

What everyone is saying about using records to confirm is true. Additionally, in some long term unidentified cases, local police will get the coroner to X ray the decedent’s teeth, and then send that info to a bunch local dentists to see if *they* can recognize the teeth and subsequently match them using actual records. I believe this is what happened in the Somerton Man case (he’s still unidentified, though they’re now trying DNA databases out).

Dental records are used to confirm a hypothesis of identity. They find a body, think it’s John Smith from Missouri, subpoena Mr. Smiths Dental records, and confirm that, yes, indeed, it is him (or alternatively that it isn’t).

In the case of a completely unknown body with no hypothesis as to who it is, Dental records are useless, because no such database exists.

> I don’t remember consenting to that!

Notably, your medical records are not barred from being turned over to law enforcement if there’s a warrant for them. HIPAA law says that “[t]he Privacy Rule permits use and disclosure of protected health information, without an individual’s authorization or permission, for 12 national priority purposes”, one of which reads (emphasis mine):

>Covered entities may disclose protected health information to law enforcement officials for law enforcement purposes under the following six circumstances, and subject to specified conditions: (1) as required by law (including court orders, court-ordered warrants, subpoenas) and administrative requests; **(2) to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, material witness, or missing person**; **(3) in response to a law enforcement official’s request for information about a victim or suspected victim of a crime;** (4) to alert law enforcement of a person’s death, if the covered entity suspects that criminal activity caused the death; (5) when a covered entity believes that protected health information is evidence of a crime that occurred on its premises; and (6) by a covered health care provider in a medical emergency not occurring on its premises, when necessary to inform law enforcement about the commission and nature of a crime, the location of the crime or crime victims, and the perpetrator of the crime.


Wtf? I took a bite out of a chunk of cheese an hour ago and was going to ask this same question.

Cops can’t, its a person called a Forensic Dentist and it is a way to id dead John/Jane Does. And your dentition is as unique as your fingerprint.

In Canada, if you go missing your family can consent to having your dental records turned over to the police, who will enter them in a national police database. The police don’t have access directly to dental records, only indirectly via family consent in cases of missing people, or via warrants in other cases.

When they find a corpse they can search the database for anyone with dental artifacts that match the body. They would then do more detailed comparisons between the body and records to try to make a positive ID.

Let me tell you about these female operatives who get your dental records with cameras implanted on their nipples.

It’s called Forensic Odontology and it should never be used for bite mark evidence but it can be used to identify a body. It’s a debunked science

[Innocence Project](